Just touched down in Kosovo yesterday. Twenty-two hours from Lincoln, Neb. It’s my fifth lecturing visit to the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communication. KIJAC’s mission is to provide future journalists from Kosovo and the wider region with practical journalistic skills as well as a deep understanding of the role of media in a democratic society.
I first visited in 2006 as a part of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s global outreach mission. These have been interesting times in Kosovo. The changes this new democracy are going through are daunting and exciting. The people I have met here, Serbs, Albanians and Roma, have been kind and hospitable. It has been a humbling experience to work with young journalists here, many who have lost homes, friends and family to war in the late 1990’s.
When I first came here four years ago, Prishtina still bore the scars of war and poverty. Its infrastructure was so poor that it was impossible to navigate Prishtina’s garbage strewn streets and sidewalks without dodging cracks and potholes. Thousands of KFOR troop patrols helped police the city and the countryside. At night, wild dogs barked and howled from deserted, crumbling buildings. Electricity outages were the norm and residential water service was shut off at night to conserve supplies.
Four years and an independence declaration later, Prishtina and Kosovo are slowly, but clearly moving forward again. Poverty is still rampant. Many sections of the city look as if time froze in the 1930’s. But new businesses and modern residential homes have sprung up. The electrical grid is much more reliable. A new highway is being built between Prishtina and Albania. Most of the wild dogs are gone. The KFOR troops have been downsized from 50,000 in 1999 to about 10,200 today. I must admit it’s still sobering to be sitting in a suburban Prishtina coffee shop, enjoying a cup of macchiato, and watch three North Dakota National Guardsmen be seated at a neighboring table with M-16 rifles in tow.
10 facts about Kosovo
1. Kosovo is about 1/20th the size of Nebraska.
2. Kosovo declared it’s independence from Serbia in 2008. That was eight years after a NATO bombing campaign to stop the killing of Albanians drove out Serb forces. Ongoing tensions between Albanians and Serbs, as well as rampant crime, have kept foreign investment away.
3. The Kosovo government still does not control 15 percent of its northern territory where roughly 60,000 Kosovo Serbs live and do not recognize Albanian-run institutions.
4. Sixty-five countries, including the United States and its key European allies, have recognized Kosovo. Opposition from Serbia, Russia and China has prevented it from becoming a member of the United Nations.
5. The landlocked country of 2 million people, mostly ethnic Albanians, is among the poorest in Europe.
6. Unemployment stands at 45 percent.
7. The annual per capita income is $2,403 while the EU average is $33,776.
8. Kosovo’s economy, driven by exports of metals, cannot generate enough revenue for the government, nor can its labor market absorb some 30,000 youngsters every year. Exports cover only 10 percent of imports.
9. Around 65 percent of the population is under 30 but many of them seek to leave Kosovo for Western Europe, mostly by paying 2,000-3,000 euros to human traffickers.
10. Despite the continuing presence of some 10,000 NATO troops and 2,000 police, judges and prosecutors from the EU, Kosovo remains “a source and a place of transit for organized crime activities,” according to a 2009 European Commission report.